Islamabad: Pakistan on Friday urged Islamist militants recovering from the apparent slaying of their leader to surrender, promising that those who did would be treated fairly.
The call could be a sign the government is seeking to exploit any potential weaknesses in the militant movement since Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a CIA missile strike on Aug. 5. U.S. and Pakistani officials believe he is dead, though his followers contend he is still alive.
"Say goodbye to terrorism and start a new life," Interior Minister Rehman Malik appealed to the militants in televised comments to the media. "This is a new day."
He said those surrendering would be treated on an individual basis, with authorities deciding between "leniency" and prosecution.
Al-Qaida and Taliban militants based close to the Afghan border have carried out a wave of bombings and shootings on government and Western targets in Pakistan over the last two years, raising fears the nuclear-armed country is spinning out of control.
Pakistani officials have called on the militants to surrender before, but with little success. The level of behind-the-scenes contact between the two sides is unknown.
U.S. and Western officials have said reaching out to moderate Taliban will likely be a major part of any solution to the raging insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, but have been concentrating on urging Pakistan to fight the extremists, not talk with them.
Pakistan launched an operation against militants close to the border in the Swat Valley earlier this year after they violated the terms of a peace deal. It claims to have killed more than 1,200 extremists there and brought the region under government control.
Since the apparent killing of Mehsud, government officials have claimed that militants are fighting over who will replace him. Taliban spokesman have denied any disunity.